UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), the British parallel of the FDA, commissioned a group to recommend an optimal front of pack nutrition labeling system. There are several schemes currently in effect, which causes great confusion amongst shoppers.
The results of the group’s work are not surprising. They recommend that a system based on the FSA developed Traffic Light system be chosen. We agree. Read why…
What you need to know:
A front of package nutrition label is a uniform, quick glance tool to help a shopper decide if a food is healthy enough or not.Essentially, it is supposed to help those in a rush make a decision without having to read the entire nutrition label and ingredient list.
The traffic light system pictured below was developed by the regulator, not food companies, and is in our opinion not tainted by financial considerations. It contains a dangerous color – RED. Red means there’s too much of something unhealthy, but it also conjures the words STOP, BAD, DON’T BUY THIS PRODUCT. It also simply states if a product is high, low, or in the middle with respect to claories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.
Therefore, manufacturers came up with a similar tool called GDA – guidline daily amount. They took away the color coding. Instead of high, low, medium, percentages are placed on a product.
A third family of labels is based on benchmarks. Each product category gets an industry agreed definition for a threshhold value of nutrients. A product performing better than that threshold is bestowed with the benchmark symbol. Choices is the leading benchmarking system
What to do at the supermarket:
The US is even more confusing than Europe. We have yet to implement a single front of label system, and the FDA does not seem to be thinking in that drection. So each manufacturer / grocery chain is doing independent work. NuVal has been implemented in 3 regional chains, Guiding Stars in 2, Smart Choices is a manufacturer led initiative that seems to be fizzling along, and there are several more examples. For a full list see here.
As always, we recommend you DO read the nutrition panel and ingredient list. Make sure you understand what you’re putting on your family’s table. Products with short or no ingredient lists, such as milk, lean meat, vegetables and fruits, are the best bet. Some aisles are best to stay away from altogether (processed TV dinners, salty snacks, etc..)
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